Council weighs property tax increase

Published on Thu, Nov 6, 2008 by Tara Nelson

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Council weighs property tax increase

By Tara Nelson

Depending on the outcome of the next meeting of the Blaine City Council, residents may or may not be faced with a small increase in their property taxes.

During a special work session last Monday, Blaine City Council reviewed the 2009 general budget but stopped short of approving it after some council members such as Jason Overstreet objected to a 1 percent increase in property tax revenue.

Overstreet said he had checked with the assessors office and determined that a 1 percent increase in revenue would equal roughly $9,400, or about a $3 increase per homeowner, and that he would not support it.

Council member Paul Greenough agreed.

“It is a rare occasion that I share Jason’s opinion completely, but I’m still not willing to vote for it because we are facing an uncertain future and it’s unfair to ask the citizens of the city to pony up more money,” he said.

Council member Harry Robinson said he agreed but would want to reserve the right to levy an increase at a future date if the economy improves and the city needed it.

The council postponed their decision until the city’s finance department could come up with an adjusted budget.

But while other Whatcom County cities are struggling to deal with projected budget shortfalls in the year 2009, the city of Blaine will face only a small number of cuts.

With projects such as the $32 million Lighthouse Point water reclamation facility, the 200,000-square foot Viva Pharmaceuticals manufacturing and research facility and an anticipated sale of the Blaine airport estimated at $6.2 million, the city will likely be buffered from an otherwise volatile economic climate – at least for now, city manager Gary Tomsic said.

Tomsic said Blaine has not yet been hit hard by the current recession, although he anticipates a drop in sales taxes, as consumers tighten the belts on their family budget.

Taxes from city utilities such as water and sewer, meanwhile, are more secure, although he did say in tough economic times residents will likely try to conserve and city officials anticipate more delinquent or late payments.

“The general economy is a big question mark right now and how it’s going to impact us is really unknown,” he said.

A worst-case scenario could involve additional budget cuts later in the year and would likely involve reductions in staffing, which accounts for two-thirds of the general fund budget spending, he said. Other possible reductions would likely include deferring capital improvement plans and large equipment purchases.

The $72 million budget is 52 percent higher than last year’s budget because of an increase in expenses from capital projects such as the Lighthouse Point facility but will still include some cuts. Those cuts include one building inspector position, the city’s contracted fire marshal position and reductions in training for city staff.

New items would include a new patrol car for the police department, two patrol bicycles, a part-time court clerk and new accounting software to be paid for over a five-year period. Other items would include proposed storm water improvements and upgrades to the city library, as well as new carpet and restroom improvements to city hall.

“On the upside, we’re spending less money than we used last year even though salaries and personnel costs and insurance rates have gone up,” Tomsic said.

The budget also calls for transferring $430,000 left over from the 2008 ending fund balance to establish a general fund reserve account for emergencies.

The council will review the amended budget at 7 p.m. Monday, November 10.